The Skirball Cultural Center announces Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark-Making in LA, on view October 6, 2017 through February 25, 2018. This exhibition features more than 140 new photographs by Ken Gonzales-Day that capture the vibrant face of muralism and related practices, such as street art, graffiti writing, and sign painting, throughout the city of Los Angeles. An interdisciplinary artist whose practice considers race and representation, Gonzales-Day examines Los Angeles’s rich tradition of muralism—from the celebrated to the humble, the historic to the contemporary—and illustrates how murals invite participation from artists of all backgrounds, portray the experiences of diverse communities, and define the visual landscape of Los Angeles’s streets.
In a city characterized by an expansive sprawl of diverse neighborhoods easily bypassed via freeways, the exhibition encourages visitors to examine their surroundings, venture off familiar paths, and encounter new communities. “I believe these images reveal more about Los Angeles and its communities, its struggles, and its losses than one can find in any book,” Gonzales-Day remarked.
Developed collaboratively between Gonzales-Day and Skirball curators, the project set the artist on a ten-month journey across the city—from East Los Angeles to Venice Beach, from Pacoima to Watts. As he traversed hundreds of miles, Gonzales-Day photographed the murals he encountered, and explored cultural influences such as graffiti writing, street art, sign painting, film, music, television, and commercial advertising. His works document contributions by numerous prominent muralists, including Kent Twitchell and Levi Ponce, as well as artists who remain anonymous but no less important to the aesthetics of the city.
Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day is inspired by the city’s dynamic history of muralism, which has strong roots in the Mexican Renaissance of the 1920s. During that period, Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros came to paint in the United States. The exhibition situates contemporary artists within this larger history of muralism, considering how Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, and others inspired generations of artists to take their brushes, rollers, and aerosol cans to the walls of Los Angeles.
Since roughly the 1930s, muralists have chronicled important chapters in Los Angeles’s history, such as the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the 1984 Olympics, and the ongoing importance of the Hollywood film industry. As captured by Gonzales-Day, these public works also comment upon shifting representations of race in the city and the role they play in the politics of space. Although a decade-long ban on mural-making temporarily stifled the form until 2011, the practice has enjoyed renewed vitality in the past decade amid the redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles and the rise of street art as a prominent and respected medium.
“Ken Gonzales-Day’s sensitive and dynamic photographs demonstrate how murals tell stories of Los Angeles communities and individuals. Accessible to everyone and often stumbled upon accidentally, murals reveal how art often stimulates conversation, bridges divides between people, and creates understanding,” said Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director. “The sense of invitation inherent in these public works and the ways they foster human connection are central to the Skirball’s mission.”
Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day moves from neighborhood to neighborhood, reflecting the unique concerns, aesthetics, and history of each area. A grouping of photographs highlights recurring themes that stuck with Gonzales-Day as he drove: reflections on the politics of space and belonging; the representation of cultural heritage; the cult of celebrity; and the very question of what counts as a mural and who gets to decide.
The exhibition will also feature gallery interactives designed to encourage visitors to embark on their own journeys. Both a digital map and a large map on the gallery floor will enable visitors to consider the geographic relationships between the murals and to trace Gonzales-Day’s route through Los Angeles. Visitors will be able to take home a printed map of the city that pinpoints the location of each mural on view, and invites them to document their own discoveries.
Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day complements the Skirball’s major fall/winter exhibition, Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico. Both are part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than seventy cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty.
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